My name is Siobhan Stevenson and I am a member of the BCMCR and I teach Radio Studies and Professional Development to Undergraduates within the Birmingham School of Media. After working in the industry for 14 years (including a spell in TV), I decided I wanted to focus on studying radio from a critical perspective. My journey through radio has been a long and winding road with lots of twists and turns, but the first few steps took me through the doors of the Afro-Caribbean Resource Centre in Winson Green, Birmingham, where I became involved with a community radio station called Fusion FM. The best bit about that station was that it offered people like me, interested in learning some new skills a chance to practice those skills within a community setting.
My involvement with Fusion FM lasted about nine months and since then the station has evolved and become Newstyle Radio, which has been serving the Afro Caribbean and wider community in Birmingham, ever since. I found my experience of participating at the station engaging and empowering, after growing up in Birmingham, as part of an Irish family in the late 70s and early 80s had been challenging. I always felt that this was a city full of a people, who like us were living in mixed immigrant communities, and that’s why we stayed, because we fitted in.
The initial days at Fusion FM inspired me to pursue a career in radio, which led to a job at the BBC and then to my current job as an Academic. Since I started to think about radio in a critical sense, my passion for it as a medium has continued to grow, fuelled by debates around culture versus commerce and the power of radio to provide skills and knowledge ‘by the back door’. In deciding to embark on PhD research, it seemed obvious that community radio should be the focus of my work, as it is a field which encapsulates so many of my interests and had such an impact on my career. In focusing my research I have reflected on my conversations with numerous people who are currently volunteering, or have previously volunteered in community radio stations and although there are few who are paid for their efforts, they continue to do it. Whilst discussing their motivation for volunteering they give their reasons as either to benefit themselves or to benefit the community as a whole.
In response to these perspectives my research is an investigation into a particular aspect of community radio licences and how the social gain policy (which requires the station benefit the community as a whole) outlined in all licences, is understood, translated and delivered through community radio output. In investigating various national and international models of community radio and associated literature, I have come across a number of recurring themes including democracy, citizenship and participation. In trying to unpack some of those themes, I have begun to consider the act of volunteering in community radio stations, as exercising the rights of a citizen. I have also come to understand that there are two types of citizenship, and culture and nationality are intrinsically linked to how people understand the concept of citizenship and this in turn underpins their reasons for volunteering.
To contextualise citizenship in terms of democracies, Held (2006) is useful, as he makes a distinction between authoritarian regimes, which are governed with restricted liberties and liberal democracies, which use voting systems to elect politicians and give the citizen power. Although the UK has often been described as depoliticized and the limits of the citizen’s power questioned, we would fall under the description of a liberal democracy. Dwyer (2003), whilst trying to pin down a concrete definition of citizenship, outlines civic republicanism and liberalism as the two traditions which dictate the version of citizenship we understand and the one we come to practice. He describes communitarianism as the more contemporary legacy of civic republicanism and outlines it as a type of citizenship where participants have shared values and act for the benefit of the community as a whole. However, liberalism is described as being much more individualistic with a focus on the pursuit of individual rights. Although there are more complex definitions of both traditions (and sub-divisions) than described here, if we apply them to the act of volunteering, we would be considering participation for the good of the community (communitarianism) or for individual gratification (liberalism). There are a number of current research projects being carried out by BCMCR, which look in more detail into citizens engaging with social media in the Arab world to effect change and construct new democracies. However, my focus at this stage is thinking through the act of volunteering in community radio stations and how we can consider this as citizenship.